Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Football, Respect, and Assumptions

Last week there was more than a little hubbub about Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers Quarterback and all-around mercurial dude. He answered a question about the routes one of his receivers was running - asked by a woman - by saying it was "funny" that a female was asking about routes.

It was a terribly awkward thing to say, made worse by the accompanying body language that came off as more than a little dismissive of someone just trying to do their job. The reporter said as much in a statement following the press conference - she was insulted, both personally, and on behalf of women and female sports journalists everywhere.

I think it's very likely Cam Newton is a sexist - or at the very least, felt like one in that moment - sexism is the devaluing of a person because of their sex, in our society, it's women, valued less than men for no real reason whatsoever. However, the actual words the man spoke merely expressed his feelings receiving that question in that moment - the interpretation of their meaning is left up to the beholder.

We know how the reporter felt - and rightly so - it seems most of the world agreed with her, again, that is their right. But the way in which this "story" was covered in the media took a slightly different tack. Instead of discussing what those words could mean and having opinions on those various meanings, most outlets I saw, heard, or experienced, decided that Cam Newton meant that women shouldn't be covering sports and proceeded to fill their time arguing against that point.

It may be a slight difference - and one not worth really arguing about since almost no one is giving Newton the benefit of the doubt here (although, in subsequent statements, Newton both admitted the reporter's interpretation of his words was correct and argued she didn't understand what he was trying to say). There's a large cultural point at play here, though: namely that we've reached a point where almost everyone is comfortable treating their own opinions as fact.

We don't really know what Cam Newton meant. In fact, in statements since the incident he's apologized for saying exactly what everyone thought he said and also defending himself, claiming he was merely commenting on how rare it is, still today, to see a women covering sports and that his comment was intended to be a complement.

The proper response to all this is to argue what should be the interpretation of the comments and explain why. We just didn't do that - we extrapolated meaning from the words and then claimed that meaning as fact.

It then happened again, in a different way, on Sunday - when the Vice President of the United States and the owner of Dallas Cowboys made statements that equated kneeling during the national anthem with disrespect of the flag, the country, and/or the military. These echo the comments of the President, but as we all know, in the current administration, the words of the President don't count until someone else repeats them.

Equating the various protests taking place at NFL games during the anthem with disrespect is certainly a valid opinion, but, of course, stating that opinion works against the direct statements of most of those very players - and, indeed, with Colin Kaepernick, the originator of the protest, who moved from sitting on the bench to kneeling specifically because he wanted to avoid the kind of disrespect Mike Pence and Jerry Jones happen to see.

Now I get that someone could mean no disrespect, but have their words or actions perceived as disrespectful anyway. Both parties, in that case, have a right to their intentions and opinions. But it is a far cry from fair to simply state your opinion as fact and cluelessly defend it. It's the kind of behavior you might expect from a twelve year old, whose brain development hasn't yet let them truly grapple with the reality of a non-binary argument. It's not the hallmark of mature individuals.

Yet here we are.

This is the world in which we live.

I find it particularly interesting that we're quick to call out those who devalue others. Sexist, racist, traitor - yet we seem to do it in such a way that we devalue those we accuse of devaluing others. If people are indeed people and worthy of respect simply because of that fact, then we should probably treat them that way.

That's not to say we don't oppose those ideas, actions, words, and opinions we deem to be wrong - but we need to do it in a way that honors and values the person who said, did, thought, or expressed them. People come up with the stupidest, most inane, illogical, and all-around terrible ideas out of great earnestness of thought. Not that every idea is a well-wrestled achievement, but many of even the stupidest truly are.

We should be able to say to or about Cam Newton: the words and actions he used the other day really make it sound like he doesn't think women should cover sports without automatically making our interpretations truth. The frickin' Vice President of the United States should be able to say, "your actions during the anthem bother people who love this country," and those players should be able to say to the Vice President of the United States, "the inaction of the country in the face of injustice bothers people (like me) who love this country," without having to denominze, devalue, and denude the dignity and respect of those who disagree.

I guess it's better radio, better tv, better click bait, to just make the most outrageous claim possible and wait for the fireworks. We can excuse it as business or marketing or entertainment all we want, but most people don't see it that way; they see it as life and death or at least a matter of honor. It's not just in good fun when its so pervasive and half the audience isn't in on the joke.

We've engaged the post-modern post-truth world in exactly the wrong way. Instead of coming into every conversation holding our facts and opinions lightly, willing to have our minds changed, we enter in combat mode, willing to denigrate the different and deny the validity of anything but my own ideas. One of the biggest problems we have right now in this country is that everyone thinks everything they think is a fact. When in reality, we could all use a little bit of humility...

...or maybe a lot.

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